Read Australia Day

As uncomfortable as it is, we need to reckon with our history. On January 26, no Australian can really look away. There are the hard questions we ask of ourselves on Australia Day. Since publishing his critically acclaimed, Walkley Award-winning, bestselling memoir Talking to My Country in early 2016, Stan Grant has been crossing the country, talking to huge crowds everywhere about how racism is at the heart of our history and the Australian dream. But Stan knows this is not where the story ends. In this book, Australia Day, his long-awaited follow up to Talking to My Country, Stan talks about reconciliation and the indigenous struggle for belonging and identity in Australia, and about what it means to be Australian. A sad, wise, beautiful, reflective and troubled book, Australia Day asks the questions that have to be asked, that no else seems to be asking. Who are we? What is our country? How do we move forward from here?

With Australia Day, Stan Grant continues on from his previous book Speaking to my Country, collecting a range of pieces and ideas tied together, addressing land, family, race, history and nation to answer the question: who are we? The book is a mixture of personal memoir and philosophical exploration. It builds on his earlier book The Australian Dream.

I wrote a longer discussion here.

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Room_of_One%27s_Own
A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf, first published in September 1929. The work is based on two lectures Woolf delivered in October 1928 at Newnham College and Girton College, women’s colleges at the University of Cambridge.

The essay dives into what is involved with being a female writer. Whether it be balancing raising a family:

Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children – no human being could stand it.

Depending upon a husband for funds:

It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband’s property – a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in keeping Mrs Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange.

Or writing in privately in public:

I wondered, would Pride and Prejudice have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not thought it necessary to hide her manuscript from visitors?

It is out of this that we get the famous quote:

A Woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.

Responding to these challenges, Woolf points out that nothing is known about women before the eighteenth century. With this in mind, she discusses William Shakespear’s fictitious sister Judith.

Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably – his mother was an heiress – to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin – Ovid, Virgil, and Horace – and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter – indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father’s eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly, but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer’s night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager – a fat, loose-lipped man – guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting – no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress.

Before then exploring what it means to write like a woman and a woman’s experience.

The book has somehow to be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women’s books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted work. For interruptions there will always be. Again, the nerves that feed the brain would seem to differ in men and women, and if you are going to make them work their best and hardest, you must find out what treatment suits them – whether these hours of lectures, for instance, which the monks devised, presumably, hundreds of years ago, suit them – what alternations of work and rest they need, interpreting rest not as doing nothing but as doing something but something that is different; and what should that difference be?

One of the things that really struck me rereading this essay was the significance of Jane Austen. I am not sure that occurred to me reading Austen growing up, let alone the work of Fanny Burney. It just makes me want to dive back in again.


I was led back to this essay via two podcast discussions: A Room of One’s Own (In Our Time) and What’s behind the anger? On Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (The Minefield).

Podcasts

A Room of One’s Own (In Our Time)

MP3

Melvyn Bragg speaks with Hermione Lee, Michele Barrett and Alexandra Harris about Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own.

What’s behind the anger? On Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”

Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens speak with Charlotte Wood about what Virginia Woolf’s essay tells us about the nature of power, the sentiments that feed contempt, the conditions of creative freedom, and the possibility of moral transformation.

Marginalia


Chapter 1

A Woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.

One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.

Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children – no human being could stand it.

It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband’s property – a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in keeping Mrs Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange.

At any rate, whether or not the blame rested on the old lady who was looking at the spaniel, there could be no doubt that for some reason or other our mothers had mismanaged their affairs very gravely. Not a penny could be spared for ‘amenities’; for partridges and wine, beadles and turf, books and cigars, libraries and leisure. To raise bare walls out of the bare earth was the utmost they could do.

Chapter 2

Why are women, judging from this catalogue, so much more interesting to men than men are to women?

Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the dominance of the professor. His was the power and the money and the influence. He was the proprietor of the paper and its editor and sub-editor. He was the Foreign Secretary and the Judge. He was the cricketer; he owned the racehorses and the yachts. He was the director of the company that pays two hundred per cent to its shareholders. He left millions to charities and colleges that were ruled by himself. He suspended the film actress in mid-air. He will decide if the hair on the meat axe is human; he it is who will acquit or convict the murderer, and hang him, or let him go free. With the exception of the fog he seemed to control everything. Yet he was angry

Chapter 3

fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible; Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.

what I find deplorable, I continued, looking about the bookshelves again, is that nothing is known about women before the eighteenth century. I have no model in my mind to turn about this way and that. Here am I asking why women did not write poetry in the Elizabethan age, and I am not sure how they were educated; whether they were taught to write; whether they had sitting-rooms to themselves; how many women had children before they were twenty-one; what, in short, they did from eight in the morning till eight at night.

Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably – his mother was an heiress – to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin – Ovid, Virgil, and Horace – and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter – indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father’s eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly, but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer’s night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager – a fat, loose-lipped man – guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting – no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress.

Chapter 4

Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for. It might still be well to sneer at ‘blue stockings with an itch for scribbling’, but it could not be denied that they could put money in their purses. Thus, towards the end of the eighteenth century a change came about which, if I were rewriting history, I should describe more fully and think of greater importance than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses. The middle-class woman began to write. For if Pride and Prejudice matters, and Middlemarch and Villette and Wuthering Heights matter, then it matters far more than I can prove in an hour’s discourse that women generally, and not merely the lonely aristocrat shut up in her country house among her folios and her flatterers, took to writing.

I wondered, would Pride and Prejudice have been a better novel if Jane Austen had not thought it necessary to hide her manuscript from visitors?

One could not but play for a moment with the thought of what might have happened if Charlotte Brontë had possessed say three hundred a year – but the foolish woman sold the copyright of her novels outright for fifteen hundred pounds; had somehow possessed more knowledge of the busy world and towns and regions full of life; more practical experience, and intercourse with her kind and acquaintance with a variety of character

Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue – write this, think that. They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some too conscientious governess, adjuring them, like Sir Egerton Brydges, to be refined; dragging even into the criticism of poetry criticism of sex;* admonishing them, if they would be good and win, as I suppose, some shiny prize, to keep within certain limits which the gentleman in question thinks suitable – ‘…female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations of their sex’.

The book has somehow to be adapted to the body, and at a venture one would say that women’s books should be shorter, more concentrated, than those of men, and framed so that they do not need long hours of steady and uninterrupted work. For interruptions there will always be. Again, the nerves that feed the brain would seem to differ in men and women, and if you are going to make them work their best and hardest, you must find out what treatment suits them – whether these hours of lectures, for instance, which the monks devised, presumably, hundreds of years ago, suit them – what alternations of work and rest they need, interpreting rest not as doing nothing but as doing something but something that is different; and what should that difference be?

Chapter 5

almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that; and how little can a man know even of that when he observes it through the black or rosy spectacles which sex puts upon his nose.

Considering that Mary Carmichael was no genius, but an unknown girl writing her first novel in a bed-sitting-room, without enough of those desirable things, time, money, and idleness, she did not do so badly, I thought.
Give her another hundred years, I concluded, reading the last chapter – people’s noses and bare shoulders showed naked against a starry sky, for someone had twitched the curtain in the drawing-room – give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days. She will be a poet, I said, putting Life’s Adventure, by Mary Carmichael, at the end of the shelf, in another hundred years’ time.

Chapter 6

The Fascist poem, one may fear, will be a horrid little abortion such as one sees in a glass jar in the museum of some county town. Such monsters never live long, it is said; one has never seen a prodigy of that sort cropping grass in a field. Two heads on one body do not make for length of life.

Read The Hacienda

Peter Hook, as co-founder of Joy Division and New Order, has been shaping the course of popular music for thirty years. He provided the propulsive …

Watching documentaries like The Hacienda – The Club that Shook Britain (BBC Documentary), one is left thinking about the ‘halycon’ days of The Hacienda. However, Peter Hook pulls back the sheet to reveal the reality of running a club. Although Hook is happy to engage with the usual talking points, such as Madonna playing there or the rise of House music, he also provides insight into the disaster it was from a business point of view and the impact it had.

The Haçienda was, as Hook says, in many ways the perfect example of how not to run a club – if you view a nightclub as a money-making business. But if, like the baggy trousered philanthropists Factory, you see it as an altruistic gift to your hometown and a breeding ground for the next generation of youth culture, it was, accidentally, purposefully, shambolically, anarchically, thrillingly, scarily, inspirationally, perfect. Hook appreciated the need to give something back but, he jokes, he didn’t realise that you had to give it all back. But then, as Wilson remarked: “Some people make money, others make history.”

Source: Review – The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club by Peter Hook by Luke Bainbridge

This reminded me of something that Brian Eno said in a conversation with Daniel Lanois, that ‘beautiful things grow out of shit’.

Marginalia

“Now I don’t know why, but Morrissey had always hated Joy Division. Maybe Rob got it right when after a lively debate as the cameras were turned off he turned to Morrissey and said, ‘The trouble with you, Morrissey, is that you’ve never had the guts to kill yourself like Ian. You’re fucking jealous.’ You should have seen his face as he stormed off. I laughed me bollocks off.”

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Imaginary_Life
I recently returned to An Imaginary Life. I vaguely remember reading this as a part of David Tacey’s Jungian class at university. It tells the story of Ovid and his journey into exile.

It tells the story of the Roman poet Ovid, during his exile in Tomis.

While there, Ovid lives with the natives, although he doesn’t understand their language, and forms a bond with a wild boy who is found living wild in nature. The relationship between Ovid and the boy, at first one of protector and protected, becomes an alliance between two people in a foreign land.

Ovid comes to Tomis enculturated with a Roman world view and through his attempts at teaching the boy language is able to free himself from the constrictions of Latin and the encompassing perception of reality that is his only barrier against transcendence.

Ovid is continually searching for the Child and what he represents to him. He goes so far as to capture him in an attempt to learn from him, and to teach him language and conventions.

Source: An Imaginary Life by David Malouf

Although I probably wrote some essay at the time about the psychological journey of awakening, I am not sure that I made the connection between Ovid and his journey into a new country with being an ‘Australian novel’ as Pema Düddul suggests:

Ovid’s great epiphany is that the untamed world is not a hostile place, but a new home where he can be free of the rigid structures of Imperial Rome. By venturing into an even further place, a greater exile, he becomes free.

An Imaginary Life is, in part, about an individual journey from a state of being cut off and apart from the environment – of wishing to tame and exploit nature, of being totally entangled in language and culture – to a state of being in intimate contact with the untrained, wild things of the world. It is also about a poet, in thrall of civilisation, realising that there are other ways to live and experience; ways that are beautiful and fulfilling.

Ovid comes to this realisation by following the example of the wild boy, someone for whom the environment is not something outside of himself but an expression of his own nature.

Source: The case for David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life by Pema Düddul

I feel this is another one of those novels that I did not fully appreciate when I first read it. Then again, maybe my reading now is simply a ‘new beginning’:

What else should our lives be but a continual series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become, except in dreams that blow in from out there bearing the fragrance of islands we have not yet sighted in our waking hours, as in voyaging sometimes the first blossoming branches of our next landfall come bumping against the keel, even in the dark, whole days before the real land rises to meet us.

SOURCE: An Imaginary Life by David Malouf

With the discussion of becoming, I was also left thinking about the connections between this novel and the work of Gilles Deleuze.

Continue reading “📚 An Imaginary Life (David Malouf)”

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Island_of_Doctor_Moreau

The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. The text of the novel is the narration of Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat. He is left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, a mad scientist who creates human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection. The novel deals with a number of themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, human interference with nature, and the effects of trauma.[2] Wells described it as “an exercise in youthful blasphemy.”[3]

The Island of Doctor Moreau is a classic work of early science fiction[4] and remains one of Wells’s best-known books. The novel is the earliest depiction of the science fiction motif “uplift” in which a more advanced race intervenes in the evolution of an animal species to bring the latter to a higher level of intelligence.[5] It has been adapted to film and other media on many occasions.

The Island of Dr Moreau, by H.G. Wells, tells the story of Edward Prendick and his experience visiting the island of Dr Moreau,  located somewhere in the Pacific. Dr Moreau is a scientist experimenting with creating human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection.

Was this the same Moreau? He had published some very astonishing facts in connection with the transfusion of blood, and in addition was known to be doing valuable work on morbid growths. Then suddenly his career was closed. He had to leave England. A journalist obtained access to his laboratory in the capacity of laboratory-assistant, with the deliberate intention of making sensational exposures; and by the help of a shocking accident (if it was an accident), his gruesome pamphlet became notorious. On the day of its publication a wretched dog, flayed and otherwise mutilated, escaped from Moreau’s house. It was in the silly season, and a prominent editor, a cousin of the temporary laboratory-assistant, appealed to the conscience of the nation. It was not the first time that conscience has turned against the methods of research. The doctor was simply howled out of the country.

Through Moreau’s creations, the novel explores what it means to be human, it is epitomised by the chant:

“Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?”

Wells makes comparisons between Moreau’s Beast Men and those living in colonies. For example, Montgomery finds it hard to discern between Moreau’s creations and the people they trade with in the colonies.

At first I had a shivering horror of the brutes, felt all too keenly that they were still brutes; but insensibly I became a little habituated to the idea of them, and moreover I was affected by Montgomery’s attitude towards them. He had been with them so long that he had come to regard them as almost normal human beings. His London days seemed a glorious, impossible past to him. Only once in a year or so did he go to Arica to deal with Moreau’s agent, a trader in animals there. He hardly met the finest type of mankind in that seafaring village of Spanish mongrels. The men aboard-ship, he told me, seemed at first just as strange to him as the Beast Men seemed to me,—unnaturally long in the leg, flat in the face, prominent in the forehead, suspicious, dangerous, and cold-hearted. In fact, he did not like men: his heart had warmed to me, he thought, because he had saved my life. I fancied even then that he had a sneaking kindness for some of these metamorphosed brutes, a vicious sympathy with some of their ways, but that he attempted to veil it from me at first.

This is something that Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting discuss on the Overdue podcast.  An example of such analysis is Matthew Thompson’s exploration of the tendency to racialise and the supposed journey from beast to civilised man.

In distinctly racialising the characters of the Beast People, Wells parallels the discourses of evolutionary science that use race as a means of distinguishing a narrative of human progression from primitiveness to civilisation. Such a narrative not only features to further the casting of the racialised Other as ‘primitive’, but, in the case of Moreau and other evolutionary scientists such as T. H. Huxley, to cast these subjectivities as animalistic.

Source: “The White Face of Moreau”: Race, Gender, and Animalism in the Literature of the Imperial Campaign by Matthew Thompson

The novel ends with Prendick sharing his enduring trauma from having survived the island.

My trouble took the strangest form. I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another Beast People, animals half wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert,—to show first this bestial mark and then that. But I have confided my case to a strangely able man,—a man who had known Moreau, and seemed half to credit my story; a mental specialist,—and he has helped me mightily, though I do not expect that the terror of that island will ever altogether leave me. At most times it lies far in the back of my mind, a mere distant cloud, a memory, and a faint distrust; but there are times when the little cloud spreads until it obscures the whole sky. Then I look about me at my fellow-men; and I go in fear. I see faces, keen and bright; others dull or dangerous; others, unsteady, insincere,—none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale. I know this is an illusion; that these seeming men and women about me are indeed men and women,—men and women for ever, perfectly reasonable creatures, full of human desires and tender solicitude, emancipated from instinct and the slaves of no fantastic Law,—beings altogether different from the Beast Folk. Yet I shrink from them, from their curious glances, their inquiries and assistance, and long to be away from them and alone. For that reason I live near the broad free downland, and can escape thither when this shadow is over my soul; and very sweet is the empty downland then, under the wind-swept sky.

This dual world where Prendick struggles to reintegrate within supposed civilised society reminded me of ending of The Heart of Darkness where the truth is surpressed in order to survive.

“‘His last word—to live with,’ she insisted. ‘Don’t you understand I loved him—I loved him—I loved him!’

“I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.

“‘The last word he pronounced was—your name.’

Source: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Stylistically, I was also reminded of the narrative style of Thomas More’s Utopia, where we are provided a perspective of place through the eyes of a visitor.

Continue reading “📚 The Island of Doctor Moreau (H. G. Wells)”

Read The In-Between by Christos Tsiolkas

The tender, sensual and moving new novel from the award-winning and bestselling author of The Slap and Damascus. A compelling contemporary love story between two middle-aged men, told with grace, heart and wisdom.

No life is simple, and no life is without sorrow. No life is perfect.

Two middle-aged men meet on an internet date. Each has been scarred by a previous relationship; each has his own compelling reasons for giving up on the idea of finding love.

But still they both turn up for the dinner, feel the spark and the possibility of something more. Feel the fear of failing again, of being hurt and humiliated and further annihilated by love.

How can they take the risk of falling in love again. How can they not?

A tender, affecting novel of love, of hope, of forgiveness by one of our most fearless and truthful interpreters of the human heart, the acclaimed bestselling author of The Slap and Damascus.

I wrote a longer response to The In-Between here.

Commentary

Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review)

Though of course plenty of writers can supply the smaller details, what makes Tsiolkas exceptional is his ability to show how excessive and unstable our senses are, how we never just enjoy our perceptions in some benign way, but find them turning continuously into greed, and then shame, and then greed again.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne

What we want is always irresponsible, or immoral, or impossible.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne

The middle-class, left-liberal, virtue-signalling people who will mostly read this book (and I include myself in this) do badly need to be told a story about how many problems won’t have a solution, exactly, and how much insane desire lies in every human heart.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne


Christos Tsiolkas The In-Between

There’s a trick Christos Tsiolkas does in his eighth novel, The In-Between. At several points in the action, as the central drama plays out in the foreground, the focus drifts away. Tsiolkas brings our attention instead to a passing youth on the street or the gaze of another commuter.
Despite these glances away, The In-Between is an intensely interior book with Tsiolkas’s trademark unflinching intimacy and access to the thoughts, fears, rages and lusts of his characters. It makes these other moments all the more acute when they occur. They offer us an external view of proceedings, giving us the distance to see our protagonists afresh

Source: Christos Tsiolkas
The In-Between
by Michael Williams


Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between

An idea is louder than snoring

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

What I want from fiction is that it sets up questions.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

Fiction puts you in shoes that are not comfortable.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Androids_Dream_of_Electric_Sheep%3F
I was inspired to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by the Overdue podcast. I enjoy Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting’s discussions, the way in which they bounce off each other. Although I had seen both the original Blade Runner (I actually studied it in Year 12) and the remake, I do not remember ever reading the book before.

Coming at the book via the film, I could not help but compare. I was particularly intrigued with the description of the ‘chicken heads’ and the androids and the idea of humanity. This reminded me of H.G. Wells comparison of the animals and the people in foreign ports in The Island of Dr Moreau.

As with the film, the book asks many questions. How do we know what is real? What does it mean to be human? How do we know who we can trust?

Read Product Details by SupaduDevSupaduDev
I was not sure what to expect when I took on Gulpilil by Terry Rielly. I assumed it would delve into the story of indigenous artist and actor, David Gulpilil, but I was unsure how it would be done. Interestingly, rather than a biography of “all that David Copperfield kind of crap”, Rielly chose to tell the tale through other people’s eyes. As Bernard Whimpress touches on:

How to write the book presents a challenge. De Heer tells the author that getting a dozen words out of Gulpilil will be difficult, so he determines to talk to actors, directors, friends and others who know him well to build the picture of why he matters ‘and still matters’.

Source: Gulpilil Review by Bernard Whimpress

Those who shared their insight include film critic Margaret Pomeranz; artists George Gittoes and Craig Ruddy (who won the Archibald, controversially, with a portrait of Gulpilil in 2004 that some claimed was a drawing, not a painting); directors Philippe Mora (Mad Dog Morgan) and Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence); and actors Damon Gameau, Gary Sweet, Jack Thompson and Paul Hogan.

The style of a different perspective each chapter reminded me in part of the old TV show This Is Your Life,

In which the presenter surprises celebrity guests with a show documenting their lives, with audience participation from their friends and family.

Source: This Is Your Life (Australian TV series)) by Wikipedia

While intermingled throughout the conversations, Rielly fills out elements of Gulpilil’s life. However, what was interesting that there were few Indigenous voices in the book. As Stephen Bennetts explains, Gulpilil’s story is complicated:

Fêted by European society, like Bennelong and Namatjira before him, Gulpilil represents for white Australians the embodiment of traditional Aboriginal culture. Yet Trudgen claims that after being discovered as a young man by British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg for the 1971 film Walkabout, Gulpilil lost connection with his traditional culture ‘because it just wasn’t part of his practice when he was out with Europeans talking with them all the time. The great disappointment of Gulpilil’s parents was his lack of traditional knowledge.’

Source: Stephen Bennetts reviews ‘Gulpilil’ by Derek Rielly by Stephen Bennetts

Overall, Terry Rielly’s Gulpilil provides an insight into some of the challenges associated with traversing two cultures. Although Gulpilil may have been five stars on the screen, life was not so simple away from the camera.

Read The Boy from Boomerang Crescent

How does a self-described ‘skinny Aboriginal kid’ overcome a legacy of family tragedy to become an AFL legend? One thing’s for sure: it’s not easy. But then, there’s always been something special about Eddie Betts.

Betts grew up in Port Lincoln and Kalgoorlie, in environments where the destructive legacies of colonialism – racism, police targeting of Aboriginal people, drug and alcohol misuse, family violence – were sadly normalised. His childhood was defined by family closeness as well as family strife, plus a wonderful freedom that he and his cousins exploited to the full – for better and for worse.

When he made the decision to take his talents across the Nullarbor to Melbourne to chase his footballing dreams – homesickness be damned – everything changed. Over the ensuing years, Betts became a true giant of the sport: 350-plus games, 600-plus goals, multiple All-Australian nods and Goal of the Year awards, and a league-wide popularity rarely seen in the hyper-tribal AFL.

Along the way, he battled his demons before his turbulent youth settled into responsible maturity. Today, the man the Melbourne tabloids once dubbed ‘bad boy Betts’ is a dedicated husband and father, a respected community leader and an increasingly outspoken social activist.

Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and always honest – often laceratingly so – The Boy from Boomerang Crescent is the inspirational life story of a champion, in his own words. Whether he’s narrating one of his trademark gravity-defying goals from the pocket, the discrimination he’s faced as an Aboriginal person or the birth of his first child, Betts’s voice – intelligent, soulful, unpretentious – rings through on every page.

The very human story behind the plaudits is one that will surprise, move and inspire.

Whether it be growing up under the eye of police, being away from family, living under the treat of racism and the challenges of educating others about culture, The Boy from Boomerang Crescent celebrates how Eddie Betts has managed to achieve greatness in the face of adversity.

Listening to Luke Carroll’s reading of the book, this was one of those books that you did not want to put down or pause. I think it was Betts’ humility, generousity and honesty. At no point is he selling tickets to the Betts show.  Although there are stories of racism in football or police, this only seems to fuel his perseverance and resiliance.

On finishing the book, I could not help but think how many chances and sacrifices have been involved for Betts to make it. He often comes back to the statement ‘It takes a village’. Even with all of his instinctual talent, it feels like there are so many points where he might have missed a training session, a game, a club expectation, that could of had him missing out.

Although I saw various headlines about this book when it was released, I was particularly drawn to it after listening to Betts’ discussion with Hamish Blake on How Other Dad’s Dad.

Read CONVERSATIONS – a new book by Steve Reich by Steve ReichSteve Reich

A surprising, enlightening series of conversations that shed new light on the music and career of “our greatest living composer” (New York Times).

Steve Reich is a living legend in the world of contemporary classical music. As a leader of the minimalist movement in the 1960s, his works have become central to the musical landscape worldwide, influencing generations of younger musicians, choreographers and visual artists. He has explored non-Western music and American vernacular music from jazz to rock, as well as groundbreaking music and video pieces. He toured the world with his own ensemble and his compositions are performed internationally by major orchestras and ensembles.

I remember playing Steve Reich’s Different Trains for my Year 11 student’s when studying the Holocaust. I used it as a means of exploring how we represent a topic, such as the past. after reading Conversations, I wonder if I really understood the complexity of the piece at the time, let alone what my students thought.

Through conversations held during the peek of COVID lockdowns, as well as some pieces from the past, Steve Reich speaks with various people who have been a part of his music over time, including:

  • David Lang
  • Brian Eno
  • Richard Serra
  • Michael Gordon
  • Michael Tilson Thomas
  • Russell Hartenberger
  • Robert Hurwitz
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Jonny Greenwood
  • David Harrington
  • Elizabeth Lim-Dutton
  • David Robertson
  • Micaela Haslam
  • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
  • Julia Wolfe
  • Nico Muhly
  • Beryl Korot
  • Colin Currie
  • Brad Lubman

Whether it be a part of creating it, reproducing it or engaging with it, each of the conversations adds a different perspective to Reich’s music.

The book was inspired by Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. Like that book, it provides a means of looking back at a long and distinguished career.

What fascinates me about such a long career is how technology had changed and evolved and the impact that this has had. It is interesting to listen to discussions about phasing associated with It’s Gonna Rain and thinking about someone like Fred Again and his use of everyday samples. I would love to know Reich’s thoughts on this.

I recently read Tony Cohen’s Half Deaf, Completely Mad and was left thinking that there is so much about music that I just overlook. I think books like this, which dive into some more complex and technical topics, are useful in gaining a peek behind the curtain.

Marginalia

Chapter 3. Richard Serra

“Best to do what you have been assigned to do. I have been given my assignment just as everyone has his or her assignment.”

Chapter 4. Michael Gordon

I think of harmony like rocket fuel. It’s such a big event.

I think we all meet who we’re supposed to meet and encounter what we’re supposed to encounter, and how that works, we don’t exactly know.

Chapter 5. Michael Tilson Thomas

MTT: I think a lot of the time what a conductor does is to confirm things that are happening. That’s a very important role.

I was talking with Sondheim, and I asked him, “How do you get this marvelous continuity, it seems to just pour out of you.” He said, “I could ask you the same question. It takes an infinite amount of hard work to make something sound like it’s effortless.” And I totally agree. There is more in my garbage can, whether it’s on the Mac desktop or the one filled with paper, than there is on a printed page. And it’s always been that way. I am my own worst critic. There is no critic who can compare to the criticism that I have inflicted on myself.

Chapter 6. Russell Hartenberger

I’ve often thought, it’s as if some artists of the same generation have receivers built into their brains, so to speak, and if they tune in to the same stations, they bond together. There is something literally in the air. Artists will pick up on that, and for all kinds of reasons, whether they’re listening to non-Western music or early Bob Dylan or Junior Walker with a repeating bass line or the first prelude of the Well-Tempered Clavier with the same rhythmic pattern repeated or Pérotin with those long held tones. All kinds of things seem to lock in.

Chapter 10. David Harrington

If I’m channeling it, I’m just the channel, I just work here!

Chapter 19. Brad Lubman

Well, to tell you the truth, I have always written both in a manuscript book and worked in real sound. Earlier on I had tape recorders. For Piano Phase, I recorded the pattern, made a tape loop of it and then sat down and played against it. In Drumming, say in the marimba section, which phase position works best? One beat ahead, two beats? Try it. Record it. Overdub it. I have always worked in real sound. And during the process, I would play back those prerecorded sections and critique them, as well. When I was writing Tehillim and didn’t play strings or winds, I would play them on a synth. Also, during that period of time I worked with my ensemble, I would compose so much and then we’d get into rehearsal right away. So, my music was rehearsed and corrections made while composing. That way of working continued up through The Desert Music in 1984, where I could only rehearse [a] small group of instruments. I started using computer notation in ’85 with Electric Counterpoint. And I mocked up the guitar using a sampling keyboard with a guitar sample. Then, a couple of years later, I started using Sibelius computer notation software with midi playback. So, in a way, it’s been smoothly continuous, always rooted in sound and always rooted in revision en route.

Read Jack Charles by Jack Charles

Jack Charles has worn many hats throughout his life: actor, cat burglar, musician, heroin addict, activist, even Senior Victorian Australian of the Year. But the title he’s most proud to claim is that of Aboriginal Elder.

I wrote my review of Jack Charles here.

Marginalia

CHAPTER 1: Stolen

Back in the day, Box Hill Boys’ Home had a good reputation as an open institution that housed the city’s forgotten children. But, as was only revealed many years later, it was a place that also housed forbidden, dark secrets; unspeakable crimes committed against the children placed in its care.

Despite being a willing learner, I was often overlooked for educational opportunities. Other kids would be taught things like geography, or arithmetic – which I didn’t do well at – while I was sent off to clean the quadrangle, or to spend an hour watering the gardens instead. Most of my assigned jobs would include quite menial tasks.

Though I wasn’t encouraged to be academic, I did have the benefit of one particular teacher, my favourite, who took it upon himself to give me elocution lessons. I think because I was Aboriginal he thought I needed to be assimilated. And what better way to do it than to teach me the Queen’s English?

One member of staff had a room directly opposite my bed. He was one of my abusers. He often came to my bed to do painful and humiliating things in the middle of the night. It wasn’t just me, either. He used to take one or two boys at a time into his room.

There was an older boy who molested me in the home. Thanks to my job as school cleaner, I knew how to sneak into the building and slide the lock so he couldn’t get in. That was a small measure of protection. I liked to be alone in the school. I knew how spotless the floor was, having just cleaned it myself, and I loved the feeling of lying there quietly and peacefully. My other escape from this boy was to go to the back of the school and climb the pine trees.

I didn’t realise until recent years, but the gym at Box Hill Boys’ Home is what sparked my interest in acting.

I counselled myself through those terrible times. That silencing of my pain and anguish led to a heroin addiction, which took over much of my adult life.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anybody struggling with the trauma of past abuse is to talk about it. It’s difficult to open up, but I try to encourage folks to reflect on themselves during those moments of suffering – without a sense of blame and shame. What you were subjected to is a part of your lived experience and, as unfortunate as it is, it happened. Come what may, you have to relegate it to a section of the old grey matter up top. Leave it there, until you wanna talk about it in a group session or it comes up naturally in conversation.

CHAPTER 2: Kinship Connections

I can’t be certain why I ended up with Mrs Murphy instead of Norma and Kevin, but I think she wanted me for herself. I’ve got letters written by her to the Aborigines Welfare Board, explaining that she’d become fond of ‘young Jacky’ and asking if I could live with them permanently. The letters don’t mention another pertinent detail: that when it came to fostering children, people got a bit more money if they took on an Aboriginal kid. This was another way the government enacted its Assimilation Policy.

I remember one particular evening, I saw a bunch of kids getting off the train at Blackburn station, joining the masses in the village. The numbers kept growing. The air was thick with tension and testosterone. The boys were all ribbing each other and carrying on, and it got quite intense. People started tearing palings off nearby shops, using other bits of wood and grabbing iron bars and just going at each other. It was like something out of a movie. I legged it out of there quick smart, before anyone could clock me.

‘Jack Charles, meet Don Bradman. Don Bradman, meet Jack Charles.’ There I was, minding my own business at the factory, when all of a sudden I was shaking hands with one of Australia’s biggest sporting legends. At the time I didn’t appreciate just how big a deal this was.

My Aboriginality was rarely discussed with the Murphys. On the odd occasion it came up with Mum, she would simply insist I was an orphan and that was the end of the story.

Connecting to culture and kin would complete the wonderful stage I was finally at in my life, after the damage done in the home. I’d landed on my feet and things were going well. As the old-style tram rattled heavily along the tracks, I was nervous and blissfully unaware of the danger of what I was doing. I had no idea at the time, but because I was still a ward of state, it was actually a criminal act to seek out my birth family. It was something you could be imprisoned for.

Over the years, I’ve had dreams of what would’ve happened if Mrs Murphy had accepted my news and bounced around joyously with me, holding my hand. What if she had celebrated my discovery, rather than punishing me? Where would I have ended up then? Instead, the night I discovered my blood kin, I lost my foster family. That night, I stopped believing in God.

CHAPTER 3: Comrades

I was released from Turana thanks to my RMS Glass boss, Alf. He’d called up Mrs Murphy asking for his ‘favourite little worker’, and found out I’d been sent away. I don’t know the details of their conversation; all I know is that Alf offered to take care of me. He was as good as his word and bailed me out of Turana that same day.

Feeling unwanted by the Aboriginal community, I turned to my old friends from Box Hill to fill the gap in my heart. A notable number of the lads, however, were heading for a life of crime and I was young and immature. It was hard to speak up and I found myself getting influenced by them a lot.

CHAPTER 4: Locked Up

Jail is a place that reflects a significant binary in my life. It represents the damage done to me as part of systemic racism, but it has also been a place of strength and empowerment. It’s easy to be cynical about gaining empowerment from an institution designed for punishment, but for me jail was a place of respite. I could rest my weary head and draw on my lived experiences and education to be of service to other prisoners. Jail was where I completed my fourth, fifth and sixth form secondary education. It was also where I had time and space to indulge in my love of reading.

It was always whitefellas getting me to write their letters. I don’t remember any blakfellas asking me to write for them. I’d make sure to use just the right language and phrases so these unsuspecting women back home would know they were number one. And the payment for my efforts? Tobacco and chocolate. This letter-writing business held me in good stead. I always rolled out of prison having gained a few pounds.

CHAPTER 5: The Prodigal Son

My friends pointed out that I could write the letter to my mother and address it care of the Swan Hill police. So I did. The sergeant wrote back saying, ‘It would be good to see you. I know your mum well.’

The publican at the Federal let me keep my luggage behind the bar, as it was too early for check-in. I had never drunk alcohol at this point, but I bought a carton of Melbourne Bitter. I kept it with my suitcase. It was a hot day, so I decided I’d go for a swim. I quickly downed a lemon squash and then off I went to the Swan Hill Baths. When I arrived there, I patiently lined up, got my togs ready and when it was my turn to enter, was told I couldn’t come in.
I looked at them, shocked. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘I can’t swim here?’ My brain was scrambling to understand.
The staff members shook their head. ‘No. You’re not allowed in. If you wanna swim, you have to go to the Murray down there.’

CHAPTER 6: Head Over Heels

The second I was on stage in front of those bright lights – mate, I loved it. I felt I belonged. I paid the five shillings required to join the New Theatre and stayed with them for about seven years.

Truth be told, I wasn’t certain of my own political beliefs. I didn’t understand, or care about, the difference between Marxism and Leninism. All I knew was that I loved the theatre, and the theatre loved me.

I learned a lot working for the New Theatre for those seven years. I credit that joint with my acting training, and I consider it as good as any NIDA course. I got to play a whole range of different characters. I played a West African, West Indian, South African and others. Funnily enough, I never played an Aboriginal.

Jack kind of plucked me out of semi-obscurity. He and his friends introduced me to a bigger world of art and art lovers. He even got me into jazz – a favourite haunt of ours was a traditional jazz club on Franklin Street, at Frank Trainers, in Melbourne’s CBD. Jack was great company. He was also kind and very gentle. I got to know his family and friends, and soon enough I was kicking around with his old schoolmates from a Melbourne private school, and their girlfriends. This was the gang we mucked around with in those days.

I hadn’t any idea about how to look after a car and didn’t know you had to actually wash it, polish it and start the motor from time to time. So the car sat there for a period with no one driving it. In time, I organised to have it dropped off to his old man, which I should’ve done earlier. By the time it was driven there, Jack’s car was a bit of a wreck.

CHAPTER 7: Collecting Rent

Even though hanging out with the Box Hill boys led me back down the path of crime, I was mostly carrying out the burgs on my own, late at night. It was quiet in those leafy, dark suburbs. In those days, there weren’t as many streetlights. It was much easier to not be seen. I kept myself company by singing as I prowled the streets. And I’d rehearse my lines while going from one place to another. Walking, walking, power walking; I did a shitload of it. To this day, I credit walking for my longevity, despite being a regular smoker.

I remember spotting one of the first three-in-one TV, cassette player and radios that came into Australia. It was in a house in Kew. Not only did I spot it, but I stole and sold it. Now that I knew this house was particularly well stocked with goods, I decided to go back the following month. I couldn’t believe it: they’d bought another set! They would’ve had to order it from overseas. I stole that one too.

In the middle of the night, when you’re doing a burg, your senses become heightened. And not just for me, but also for those sleeping. Invariably, it’s the woman who senses that something’s not right. They have a sixth sense that kicks in even when they’re asleep.
That stillness in the air can be stirred merely by opening a door, so entry has to be extremely quick. It’s an art, shutting that door as quietly and quickly as you can, so as not to change the atmosphere of a room. Sometimes people can detect the very air being disturbed in their sleep and that’s enough to wake them.

When I discovered my connection to this traditional land, I started thinking of my burgs as ‘collecting rent’; taking back just a small piece of what had been cruelly stolen from me and my people.

‘Yeah,’ he said, not taking his eyes off me. ‘He’s here in the bedroom. Call the police.’
‘No. I want to see him first,’ she replied, and entered the room. She took one look at me and exclaimed, ‘You’re Jack Charles!’ I shrank at the recognition. This woman had seen me in a show. And thank goodness for that. She happened to also be an enthusiastic supporter of the arts, so she didn’t call the cops. Instead, she invited me to sit in their kitchen for a cup of tea and a chat.
‘Jack,’ she said softly. ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you robbing people’s places?’
I struggled to give her an answer. ‘Well, the theatre only employs me when they want an Aboriginal. And those gigs are few and far between.’
She looked at me kindly. ‘All right, Jack. We won’t call the police, but please don’t rob us again.’

There were times when I was tired of doing burgs and wanted to be caught. Just so I could get some rest in jail.

CHAPTER 8: Psycho Ceramica

Within a year or two of starting pottery classes at Castlemaine, I was tasked with running the workshops. I named the shop ‘Psycho Ceramica’ because you had to be a crackpot to be in the nick in the first place. When prisoners stepped into my workspace, they abided by the rules. You couldn’t muck up, fuck up or be stuck up. If you did, you’d be out. It was that simple. Which isn’t to say the fellas didn’t try it. Every now and then, you’d get some cheeky bugger trying his luck making a bong. Before it went in the kiln, I’d secretly chuck some water on it, making it explode. I’d innocently say, ‘Oh geez, mate – not sure what happened there. Must’ve been an air bubble. Shame, eh?’ Whatever tomfoolery went on in Psycho Ceramica, I had no tolerance for it and would put an end to it. I knew what the space meant, not just for me, but for others. I couldn’t risk the possibility of the workshops being shut down because of one person’s fuck-up.

In jail, sometimes you put your name down to see the prison doctor, just for something to do. You’ve got to go through a couple of different sections of the jail to find the medical centre. It helps break the monotony and gives you a change of scene.

The trick to surviving prison is to never involve yourself in anything. If you feel slighted or unhappy about a comment or incident, you act deaf. Show no reaction. But there are times when you need to show that you’re tough.

Showing fear in jail only makes your life harder. I’ve seen others succumb to it. One poor young fella in F division was picked on, raped and assaulted by the others to the point where he expected it every night. He was resigned to it.

CHAPTER 9: Taking Rage to the Stage

When the Arts Council gave me a grant to start an Aboriginal theatre, I co-founded it with Bob. We wanted to develop a modern blak theatre movement – the first blak theatre company in Australia. I remember flipping through a small Aboriginal language book and coming across the word ‘Nindethana’, which means ‘ours’

In 1972, The Pram Factory produced the play Bastardy, written by John Romeril and directed by Bruce Spence. It was based loosely on my alcoholic memories of meeting my mother for the first time, and was well reviewed as a fine example of Romeril’s powerful writing and a significant tale of the Stolen Generations.

The Opera House waited until the very last moment before finally calling me and agreeing to pay all the girls the correct fee. I told them, ‘I’m so pissed off with you, ya bastards. Y’know, making those girls wait so long.’ I paused but there was no response. Time to pull out the big guns. ‘Okay, I’ll stay, but I’m going to do Bennelong naked. Fuck yas.’ It seemed like a fair exchange for the stress we’d been put under. And so I did it. Wandered on stage and performed the show with me willy dangling on the Opera House stage.

I still wasn’t drinking. I’d go into pubs to check out music and for the social aspect of it but didn’t touch so much as a drop. Instead, I got into heroin because I needed some foible, as you do.

heroin soon had me in its grip. It was straight out of the frying pan and into the fire.

CHAPTER 10: My Brother Archie

Discovering family gave me a new lease on life and sense of purpose. It was nice to instantly become an uncle. And a brother.

Folks will find themselves in a space together and they’ll look at each other and say, ‘’Scuse me, what’s your name? What mob are you from?’ They’re the first questions we ask if we see another blak person. It’s a meaningful way to establish a connection of sorts – profound or otherwise. White people see themselves everywhere and so their sense of identity is such that they don’t need to necessarily go searching for that connection. But for blakfellas, that yearning for culture, kin and community runs deep.

Archie wandered around Fitzroy asking strangers for money to support his drug habit. He was a good coal-biter; forceful and very insistent, and you could hear him coming from a long way away. Coal-biting is when you’re begging and not trying to offer anything in return (unlike, say, a pan-handler or a busker). He was very forceful and would sometimes grab people’s arms as they walked past. I told him, ‘Don’t do that, Archie. It’s abusive.’ But he didn’t give it a second thought to encroach on a person’s space. You know, people would be sitting enjoying their latté and brunch down on Smith Street or Brunswick Street and he’d approach them and spray saliva all over them while asking for spare change. They’d give him a note to get him to piss off so he wouldn’t be spitting all over their food and drink.

Turns out Archie had been busted doing over many of the same houses I’d done, particularly around the Kooyong area.

From all along the east coast, New South Wales, to Victoria and South Australia, ‘moom’ was a well-known word for ‘bum’ and ‘Moomba’ means ‘up ya bum’. God, we bloody hooted. We laughed our tits off.

I didn’t know Archie had that arrangement with those three Yugoslavs. I never met or spoke with them. They injected poisonous shit into my brother that meant he was never the same. Years later, when I asked Archie what’d been injected into him he frantically and loudly cried out in his staccato manner of speaking, ‘They. Gave. Me. Bon Ami!’ That’s the powder you clean your sinks with. That’s what they injected into Archie. My brother. A brutal combination of heroin and Bon Ami that went straight into his veins and forever changed him. Bloody shocking.

I was living in the George Wright Hostel when Archie came out of Aradale and he came directly to me. Seeing him really shocked me because physically he’d changed so much. He was limping, had a hunched back and his arm was often stretched up and curled over his head. Someone said it was a sign of Archie trying to protect himself from bashings but I knew it was something more than that and was likely an overload of the psych drugs they’d given him. My heart sank with sadness and fear.

A couple of months later I was told that they’d tried to get the medical records from Pentridge, but they couldn’t find them.
They tried to get the records from Aradale, but they couldn’t find them.
They tried to get the records from H Division. But they couldn’t find them.
I don’t know if the records were destroyed or what happened, but to this day I still want answers.

CHAPTER 11: The Raging Brer Rabbit

There were two or three others with drug habits, but I was the only one on heroin. We ended up looking out for each other.

One of the actors stood up one day and said, ‘You know, they say actors should never work with children and animals? Well, I’ve got a new saying: “Never work with children, animals and Jack Charles”!’ and everyone screamed with laughter, including myself.

CHAPTER 12: The Fairy Kingdom and a Funeral

Creatively, Bastardy was a risky undertaking for both of us. I was deep in the throes of addiction at that time and the story could very well have ended tragically. As I say in the film, ‘If I hide anything, it wouldn’t be a true depiction.’ Well, nothing was hidden. No stone was left unturned. You see me burgs, you see me shooting up, sleeping on a cardboard box under a stairwell – getting busted, heading into jail, leaving jail. Amiel captured it all during those seven years and shared it with the world. The very last burg I did was captured there in that doco. There’s a scene where Amiel tells me he’s received a phone call. The homeowner’s security camera had busted me.

I’m not sure what compels a person to rob a friend of a friend, but in my case all I can say is it was borderline kleptomania.

Despite Bastardy’s success, I couldn’t escape my past. Sometimes it didn’t just come back to haunt me, it straight up bit me on the moom. In 2010 I was invited to do two Q and A’s at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in the United Kingdom. I’d just acquired my brand-spanking-new passport to travel over and we were set to take Sheffield by storm, except that I had forgotten about my extensive rap sheet. Four days before I was to fly out, the British High Commission refused my visa.
I was beside myself. In a panic, I called Amiel, who was in London, to update him on this dilemma. He was shocked. But life has a funny way of turning things around. When I called Amiel, he happened to be in the company of Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins. Concerned, she listened to Amiel’s conversation with me and heard my plaintive cry. Missy didn’t skip a beat. She hopped on the blower and rang Peter Garrett, who was the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts at that time, to see if he could intervene on my behalf. How’s that for a bit of luck? I had two rockers getting together to make a pathway for me. I waited impatiently and nervously to see what the outcome would be.

It turned out Archie came out of Aradale with a sexually transmitted disease – HIV. He also had kidney disease due to hepatitis C. If all of that wasn’t enough, he had tuberculosis – which beggars belief. The only blakfella I know in Melbourne who had tuberculosis. Poor fella.

They had to know full well that I, Jack Charles, was too far up meself to audition. It’s true. When it comes to acting roles, auditioning and getting knocked back just won’t do. I’m very lucky to be in the unique position where I’m not forced to audition in order to be seriously considered for roles. The great Australian actor Bill Hunter never auditioned either, so I take my lead from him. He told me once, ‘I get away with it so often, Jack. Thing is, I can’t act but everybody reckons I can.’ It was a relief to hear someone of his calibre say that, not to mention his advice that I should be more assertive. I responded, ‘Well, I’m in the same boat, Bill. So long as we know our lines and create the illusion of being someone else, then we’ll get across the line. You know, if it works for us, it’ll work for the audience.’

My criminal record was more than twenty pages long and Warner Brothers wanted me on their set in a week. But such is the influence of Warner Brothers that my visa was approved in twenty-four hours. It had taken eighteen months to have my visa approved in order to get me over to London to do my Jack Charles v The Crown show, but there I was in next to no time with a visa.

CHAPTER 13: Senior Victorian Australian of the Year

Hair is not the same as race. It’s not. That there could even be a correlation made between the two beggars belief, but there you have it. This dismissiveness, denial and unwillingness to listen and show genuine empathy is in itself a form of racism. I said in response that, no, Goodes was not being sensitive. I described Australia as being ‘uniquely racist’, particularly towards First Nations Australians. I stand by that.

Daniel Andrews, stood up in front of me. He’s a big fella with an extremely large moom, so I got up and hid behind that! If you were looking front on, you wouldn’t have been able to see my hair on either side of his body. I shrank behind him and thought, ‘This is good. Thank you, Danny boy.’

‘I’ve never been asked to pay a sum of money upfront. I believe you’re being a racist, mate. You’re racially vilifying me.’ We refused to pay the driver upfront and I told him what he was doing was against the law. Furthermore, I told him I’d take photos of him and make a complaint.

Seeing a row of taxis, I noticed the bloke waiting in my allocated bay. He spotted me, but as I began to wander over to him he took a good look at me in the rearview mirror, then started up the cab and drove off.

CHAPTER 14: Healing

I’m still pissed off over the fact that those of us of the Stolen Generations are still doing hard time in prisons. It’s intergenerational. If your father or mother was ripped from their family, they never got to learn about tribal lore or customs. Things like nurturing a child by wrapping them in a possum-skin cloak, or learning the basic necessities of the trees your feet brush past and where to find food or medicine in nature.

Heads of government don’t like the word ‘Treaty’. Then again, they don’t like the words ‘racism’ or ‘genocide’, either. They talk about ‘discovery’ and avoid the word ‘invasion’. These word choices seem small, but they go to show how unwilling the government is to be accountable and face the difficult truths of this nation’s history.

EPILOGUE: The Journey Never-ending

I am Jack Charles, son of Blanchie Charles. I am Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta. I’m not merely Koorie, not ‘just’ an Aboriginal.

For many Aboriginal people, the only time we get to see a doctor is when we’re in jail.

When you’re Stolen, not only is the system looking to eradicate your culture, it also messes up your personal history. Having your identity and sense of belonging ripped to shreds is an unspeakable horror. You feel bloody hoodwinked not even knowing your own life story. You might go years thinking events in your early life happened a particular way, only to discover there’s another version of events. Then you might find out that neither of those versions is correct. For instance, I thought I’d been taken when I was two months old. As an adult I found out that I was actually four months. It’s difficult to explain to those who don’t understand how this mucks up your head. When you’re Stolen, you desperately try to piece together the shattered fragments of your life story. When you’re given incorrect details, it’s infuriating. Among the lies, the deceit, misinformation and no information, you’re trying to identify what is actually real and correct.

Ultimately, the essence of being a Stolen person is that you’re always trying to find out who the hell you are.

Read book by Moby by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Porcelain: A Memoir is a 2016 memoir by American house musician Moby. Covering his youth in the 1970s until his worldwide success in the late 1990s with Play, the book also discusses the author’s spiritual struggles as a Christian, initial avoidance of and eventual recreational drug use,[1] and interest in animal rights and veganism. The book has been met favorably by critics. He had plans for a future volume covering the following decade, which he eventually released in 2019 under the title Then It Fell Apart.[2][3]

Growing up, I remember hearing Moby’s music, but I never owned (or even downloaded) any albums. To be honest, my memory of Moby is as much via TISM’s Moby-Dick Head:

Dear Moby

Having read your liner notes, I now violently oppose pain, death, famine, disease, slaughter, war, youth suicide, pollution, hitting your finger with the hammer, parking in disabled car parks, the industrial military complex, the death of innocent third world people, especially the children.

By the way, I’d like to thank Mohammed and the Dalai Lama, safari suits and stating the fucking obvious.

I stumbled upon Moby’s memoir Porcelain in the local libraries BorrowBox platform and .

After reading (or listening to Moby read) the book, I was left conflicted how I felt about Moby as both a person and an artist. I guess I went into the book hoping for some insight into the creative process, but instead came away wondering about the creative.

As a narrative, the memoir traces Moby’s life from the late eighties when he was living in a factory, until the release of Play at the end of nineties. For me, it has all the expectations of a memoir. A regular smattering of other famous people such as Jeff Buckley, Trent Reznor and Robert Downey Jnr. Coming from nowhere to seemingly succeed. Coming to some sort of realisation about life. In some ways, this felt similar to Bobby Gillespie’s Tenement Kid.

The style of the book was often very matter of fact, contradictions and all. For example, in the beginning he recounts leading bible studies and contemplating giving up all his worldly possessions to follow God, like some sort of modern St Francis of Assisi. While the book ends in a world awash with alcohol and sex, and no prayers for forgiveness afterwards. It was interesting thinking about this alongside Tom Tilley’s memoir, where he turned away from Pentecostal church. The difference was I found Tilley’s account to be more believable, whereas Moby almost came across as a fractured character out of some sort of modern Francis O’Conner story.

Overall, Porclein is another reminder of how many repetitions it often takes to get to any semblance of success. Therefore, the challenge as Austin Kleon would suggest is to ‘just keep going’.

Read series of books by Enid Blyton by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

The Faraway Tree is a series of popular novels for children by British author Enid Blyton. The titles in the series are The Enchanted Wood (1939), The Magic Faraway Tree (1943), The Folk of the Faraway Tree (1946) and Up the Faraway Tree (1951).

We recently went on a driving holiday and I borrowed out an audiobook reading of Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood, read by Kate Winslet. Although we did not get around to listening to it in the car as I thought, I listened to it personally. I was left wondering if there was anything as comparable in today’s books, maybe the Rainbow Magic series?
Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Children%27s_Bach

The Children’s Bach (1984) is a novella by Australian writer Helen Garner. It was her third published book and her second novel. It was well received critically both in Australia and abroad.

I recently read Murray Bail’s Eucalypt and discovered he was married to Helen Garner. I had never actually read any of Garner’s work, so found The Children’s Bach on the local library’s audiobook app.

Like Raymond Carver, Frank Moorhouse, David Williamson, it feels like Helen Garner’s writing captures a zeitgeist through everyday ordinariness of small moments or ‘eventlets’ that are often caught in glimpses. This might be an overheard conversation, a passing comment or a chance observation. Take for example the comment about concerts:

‘Dexter!’ she said. ‘Nobody dances with anybody any more!’

Interestingly, I think that Garner’s writing style is best summarised by Philip, one of the characters in the book, who provides some feedback to a fellow artist, just replace ‘song’ with book:

Listen. I like your song. Look, I’ll give you a tip. Go home and write it again. Take out the clichés. Everybody knows ‘‘It always happens this way’’ or ‘‘I went in with my eyes wide open’’. Cut that stuff out. Just leave in the images. Know what I mean? You have to steer a line between what you understand and what you don’t. Between cliché and the other thing. Make gaps. Don’t chew on it. Don’t explain everything. Leave holes. The music will do the rest.’

Ben Lerner describes this as a mixture of ‘intimacy and distance’.

What a summary of the plot can’t capture is how the point of view moves rapidly but somehow seamlessly among various characters, focussing on and through them, before it alights on someone else. But this ability to depict multiple perspectives is cut with a sense of how little access we really have to other minds and motivations; Garner’s prose is a singular mixture of intimacy and distance.

Source: Unheard Melodies: On Helen Garner’s “The Children’s Bach” by Ben Lerner

The world is presented in a non-judgemental way, with Garner both celebrating and critiquing the world of responsibility and commitment.

Peter Hayes has highlighted how this can sometimes be confusing or inconsistent.

There’s a hollowness to The Children’s Bach that is ultimately what makes it so tiresome to read: it isn’t really about anything, nor does it tell the entertaining story that would redeem it to that extent.

Source: The Children’s Bach Reconsidered by Peter Hayes

I wonder though if this is maybe how life is? Is the reality produced through the reading, rather than the book itself?

I vaguely remember my grandmother talking about Garner’s non-fiction writing, but really cannot imagine her reading this. Maybe I just did not really know my grandmother that well.

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Truce

The Truce (Italian: La tregua), titled The Reawakening in the US,[1] is a book by the Italian author Primo Levi. It is the sequel to If This Is a Man and describes the author’s experiences from the liberation of Auschwitz (Monowitz), which was a concentration camp, until he reaches home in Turin, Italy, after a long journey. He describes the situation in different displaced persons camps after the Second World War.

The Truce recounts Primo Levi’s journey after being liberated from Auschwitz. It follows on from If This Is a Man. I have read and watched a lot about World War II, but I had never really thought about what happens afterwards, especially with the divide between the Russians and the Americans. I wonder if one of the differences with something like Erich Maria Remarque’s The Road Back is that there was possibly more movement in World War II? It also made me wonder if Waiting for Godot and Rainbow’s Gravity are not as absurd as they seem?

Marginalia

 So for us even the hour of liberty rang out grave and muffled, and filled our souls with joy and yet with a painful sense of pudency, so that we should have liked to wash our consciences and our memories clean from the foulness that lay upon them; and also with anguish, because we felt that this should never happen, that now nothing could ever happen good and pure enough to rub out our past, and that the scars of the outrage would remain within us for ever, and in the memories of those who saw it, and in the places where it occurred and in the stories that we should tell of it. Because, and this is the awful privilege of our generation and of my people, no one better than us has ever been able to grasp the incurable nature of the offence, that spreads like a contagion. It is foolish to think that human justice can eradicate it. It is an inexhaustible fount of evil; it breaks the body and the spirit of the submerged, it stifles them and renders them abject; it returns as ignominy upon the oppressors, it perpetuates itself as hatred among the survivors, and swarms around in a thousand ways, against the very will of all, as a thirst for revenge, as a moral capitulation, as denial, as weariness, as renunciation.


The market of Cracow had blossomed out spontaneously, as soon as the front had passed by, and in a few days it had invaded an entire suburb. Everything was bought and sold there, and the whole city centred on it; townsfolk were selling furniture, books, paintings, clothes and silver; peasant women, padded


He explained to me that to be without shoes is a very serious fault. When war is waging, one has to think of two things before all others : in the first place of one’s shoes, in the second place of food to eat; and not vice versa, as the common herd believes, because he who has shoes can search for food, but the inverse is not true. ‘But the war is over,’ I objected : and I thought it was over, as did many in those months of truce, in a much more universal sense than one dares to think today. ‘There is always war,’ replied Mordo Nahum memorably.


I felt my sense of freedom, my sense of being a man among men, of being alive, like a warm tide ebb from me. I found myself suddenly old, lifeless, tired beyond human measure; the war was not over, there was always war. My listeners began to steal away; they must have understood. I had dreamed, we had always dreamed, of something like this, in the nights at Auschwitz: of speaking and not being listened to, of finding liberty and remaining alone.


They were months of idleness and relative comfort, and full, therefore, of penetrating nostalgia. Nostalgia is a fragile and tender anguish, basically different, more intimate, more human than the other pains we had endured till then – beatings, cold, hunger, terror, destitution, disease. Nostalgia is a limpid and lean pain, but demanding; it permeates every minute of the day, permits no other thoughts and induces a need for escape. 

Read https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/reading-the-holocaust

Inga Clendinnan’s Reading the Holocaust is what the name suggests, a reading of the various texts produced about the Holocaust. This reading is divided into sections, including a discussion of impediments, accounts from witnesses, what it meant to resist, the grey zone of those Jewish people who helped, the leaders, the police and the SS. It involves explorations of various texts, including memoirs, photographs, documentaries, poems, novels and historical accounts. This is something akin to a literature review.

Throughout, Clendinnan addresses the dangers of treating the Holocaust as unique just because it stands so near in time.

Our sense of Holocaust uniqueness (and we do have that sense) resides in the fact that these ferocious, largely secret killings were perpetrated within ‘twentieth-century Western society’, and that both our sense of portent and of the peculiar intransigence of these actions before puny human interpretation find their ground in the knowledge that they were conceived, executed and endured by people very like ourselves.
It is not that this material stands too far from us. It stands too near.

The limits to compelling the silence to speak and giving voice to the voiceless.

While we can never be sure what lies behind silence, I will begin to map the silences behind the words we have by exploring the circumstances under which people might feel the compulsion to speak, but find themselves unable to do so: situations, that is, when words fail.

Writing to find peace, to mend, to resist.

Levi was to find both personal peace and a way back to society not through the social activity of talking but the private one of writing: ‘By writing I found peace for a while and felt myself become a man again, a person like everyone else, neither debased nor a saint: one of those people who form a family and look to the future rather than the past.’

The difficulty with making sense of motives of leaders.

Explaining is not excusing; understanding is not forgiving. The notion that one must simply reject the actions of the perpetrators and not try to understand them would make impossible not only my history but any perpetrator history that tried to go beyond one-dimensional caricature … I must recognise that in such a situation I could have been either a killer or an evader – both were human – if I want to understand and explain the behaviour of both the best I can.

The theatre of the camps, like Auschwitz.

The theatrical perspective helps expose understandings otherwise left implicit, and flush into light some of the sadistic impulses which lurk along the boundaries of consciousness. It can expose the determined ‘othering’ by the SS of their ‘enemies behind the wire’. It can take us a certain distance into even this action sequence – into what Olga Lengyel, who saw it, diagnosed as one of the ‘fits of destructive insanity’ she thought occasionally possessed the SS. But I do not believe it can take us to the heart of the scene described, or into the hearts of similar scenes scattered through the record.

The problems with trying to provide thick description of thin material.

Despite the most diligent research, the material remains too thin to allow a sufficiently detailed retrieval of actions to achieve ‘thick description’, save in one singular instance: the Hamburg Reserve Police Battalion’s first day of mass murder at the little Polish town of Jozefow. More damagingly, Goldhagen tends to confuse detailed external descriptions of actions (‘They did this, they did that’) with the ‘thick description’ which Geertz would have us aspire to, where the actors’ meanings are the quarry (‘She’d gone too far, so I hit her’).

The challenges in attempting to represent the Holocaust.

The most effective imagined evocations of the Holocaust seem to proceed either by invocation, the glancing reference to an existing bank of ideas, images and sentiments (‘Auschwitz’), or, perhaps more effectively, by indirection.

In the end, she ends with the claim as to why history writing, with its balance between telling and interpreting, provides the best means of telling the past.

Historians are the foot soldiers in the slow business of understanding our species better, and thereby extending the role of reason and humanity in human af¬ fairs. Humankind saw the face of the Gorgon in the concentration camps, petrifying the human by its denial of the human both in itself and in its prey. The shadow of the Holocaust has lengthened with the years. In that shadow, none of us is at home in the world, because now we know the fragility of our content. If we are to see the Gorgon sufficiently steadily to destroy it, we cannot afford to be blinded by reverence or abashed into silence or deflected into a search for reassur¬ ing myths. We must do more than register guilt, or grief, or anger, or disgust, because neither reverence for those who suffer nor revulsion from those who inflict the suffering will help us overcome its power to paralyse, and to see it clearly.

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_This_Is_a_Man

If This Is a Man (Italian: Se questo è un uomo [se kˈkwesto ˌɛ un ˈwɔːmo]; United States title: Survival in Auschwitz) is a memoir by Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi, first published in 1947. It describes his arrest as a member of the Italian anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War, and his incarceration in the Auschwitz concentration camp (Monowitz) from February 1944 until the camp was liberated on 27 January 1945.

If This Is a Man is Primo Levi’s memoir of how he survived the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. A trained chemist, Levi approaches the recount in a very factual manner. This methodical nature reads something like an absurd Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Whether it be only being transported later in the war, having the right skills required for work in the laboratory or falling sick at the right time, as Primo states at the beginning, chance played a significant part in Levi’s survival.

One of the strange things about the text is the trick of language that makes you feel that you could actually imagine what it was actually like. It has me wanting to go back to Inga Clendinnen’s Reading the Holocaust.

Marginalia

It is man who kills, man who creates or suffers injustice; it is no longer man who, having lost all restraint, shares his bed with a corpse. Whoever waits for his neighbour to die in order to take his piece of bread is, albeit guiltless, further from the model of thinking man than the most primitive pigmy or the most vicious sadist.

Read http://www.sonyahartnett.com.au/products/9780143011880-ghosts-child.html
I wrote a review of Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child here.

Marginalia

She would have the memory of him, but the truth is that a memory is hardly ever good enough to console a heart.


But she longed for him to be happy, to be hers: so she would not open the prison of her heart to let him go. “I love you,” she told him, and this was true, and she knew that he believed her; but when she said it she saw the chain around his ankle, a length of links that let him wander, but not far. She did not see the chain around her own ankle, because love is blind.


Since the day by the pond Feather was always saying pretty things that were like bubbles of air, things she doubted and brushed away. His face darkened, however, and he said, “I should not have stayed. When I first met you, you had no cares. You shone with all the fabulous things you had seen, your world was wide and full of colours. Now there are shadows under your eyes, and you live in a lonely forest.”
“But I wanted you to stay.” She was willing to take the blame. “I trapped you into being with me, and threw away the key.”
Feather shook his fair head. “That’s silly, Maddy. There never was a trap, there never was a key. I stayed because I wanted to. How else could I have shown you that I loved you?”


Matilda sat back, tapping her heel. “I didn’t know much in those days,” she said. “I was just a girl. I’d always imagined that love was something which couldn’t be destroyed. I thought that, once conjured, love was towering and eternal. But wandering around the cottage alone, I began to suspect I was wrong. Maybe love was really a feeble, spineless thing, which easily forgets the thing it once adored. If that was true of ordinary love, then my love was different. My love was something colossal, my love was great. I wanted to stop loving Feather, but I simply could not. He had hurt me, he had deserted me, he had never tried – and he’d never wanted the fay. If Feather had ever loved me, it was only with that faulty, insipid love. And yet, despite all this, I missed him, and I longed for him to return. I was shackled with love, I was blighted by it; I was its victim, plagued to despair. But Feather, I imagined, was carefree somewhere, never giving me a thought. He’d got everything he wished for, and nothing he didn’t want. Me, though – I had nothing! A broken heart, that was all! And it wasn’t fair – it made me angry – eventually, it made me kick and punch and smash my way out of that awful white box.”


The islands used to float about, following the summer, until somebody realized that the islands should stand still. Because that’s what endless fulfilment is, isn’t it? That’s what forgetfulness is. Just stopping still. So the islands stopped floating, and now, on an Island of Stillness, everything is still.”
“How awful that sounds,” mused Maddy.
Zephyrus shrugged breezily. “You’d be surprised. Some people like things that way.”


Maddy drew a breath, rehearsed the words in her head, and asked, “How can you know love, and lose it, and go on living without it, and not feel the loss forever?”
“You can’t,” Feather answered. “You feel the loss forever. But you put it in a safe corner of yourself, and bit by bit some of your sorrow changes into joy. And that’s how you go on living.”


In the beginning, the blind ex-soldiers were reluctant to be treated by her. There was still something barbarous and odd about Maddy; and she was youthful, and not stern, and she wasn’t a man – in short, she was nothing a doctor should be.

Read The New York Trilogy

The New York Trilogy is a series of novels by American writer Paul Auster. Originally published sequentially as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986), it has since been collected into a single volume. The Trilogy is a postmodern interpretation of detective and mystery fiction, exploring various philosophical themes.

I wrote some extended thoughts on The New York Trilogy here.

Marginalia

It was like watching a marionette trying to walk without strings.

For the most part his entries from this period consisted of marginal questions concerning the Stillman case. Quinn wondered, for example, why he had not bothered to look up the newspaper reports of Stillman’s arrest in 1969. He examined the problem of whether the moon landing of that same year had been connected in any way with what had happened. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that Stillman was dead. He tried to think about eggs and wrote out such phrases as “a good egg,” “egg on his face,” “to lay an egg,” “to be as like as two eggs.” He wondered what would have happened if he had followed the second Stillman instead of the first. He asked himself why Christopher, the patron saint of travel, had been decanonized by the Pope in 1969, just at the time of the trip to the moon. He thought through the question of why Don Quixote had not simply wanted to write books like the ones he loved— instead of living out their adventures. He wondered why he had the same initials as Don Quixote. He considered whether the girl who had moved into his apartment was the same girl he had seen in Grand Central Station reading his book. He wondered if Virginia Stillman had hired another detective after he failed to get in touch with her. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that the check had bounced. He thought about Peter Stillman and wondered if he had ever slept in the room he was in now. He wondered if the case was really over or if he was not somehow still working on it. He wondered what the map would look like of all the steps he had taken in his life and what word it would spell.

As for Quinn, it is impossible for me to say where he is now. I have followed the red notebook as closely as I could, and any inaccuracies in the story should be blamed on me. There were moments when the text was difficult to decipher, but I have done my best with it and have refrained from any interpretation.

◆ Ghosts

Two days later, when Blue receives his check in the mail, there is finally a word from White. No more funny business, it says, and though it’s not much of a word, for all that Blue is glad to have received it, happy to have cracked White’s wall of silence at last. It’s not clear to him, however, whether the message refers to the last report or to the incident in the post office. After thinking it over for a while, he decides that it makes no difference. One way or another, the key to the case is action. He must go on disrupting things wherever he can, a little here, a little there, chipping away at each conundrum until the whole structure begins to weaken, until one day the whole rotten business comes toppling to the ground.

◆ 1

I hauled the two suitcases slowly down the stairs and onto the street. Together, they were as heavy as a man.

◆ 2

In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of flukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.

Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them, someone once said. In the same way, perhaps, experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them.

◆ 3

No one wants to be part of a fiction, and even less so if that fiction is real.

This was the tiny hole between self and not-self, and for the first time in my life I saw this nowhere as the exact center of the world.

◆ 5

I wandered in my mind for several weeks, looking for a way to begin. Every life is inexplicable, I kept telling myself. No matter how many facts are told, no matter how many details are given, the essential thing resists telling. To say that so and so was born here and went there, that he did this and did that, that he married this woman and had these children, that he lived, that he died, that he left behind these books or this battle or that bridge—none of that tells us very much. We all want to be told stories, and we listen to them in the same way we did when we were young. We imagine the real story inside the words, and to do this we substitute ourselves for the person in the story, pretending that we can understand him because we understand ourselves. This is a deception. We exist for ourselves, perhaps, and at times we even have a glimmer of who we are, but in the end we can never be sure, and as our lives go on, we become more and more opaque to ourselves, more and more aware of our own incoherence. No one can cross the boundary into another—for the simple reason that no one can gain access to himself.

There is also M. M. Bakhtin, the Russian critic and literary philosopher. During the German invasion of Russia in World War II, he smoked the only copy of one of his manuscripts, a book-length study of German fiction that had taken him years to write. One by one, he took the pages of his manuscript and used the paper to roll his cigarettes, each day smoking a little more of the book until it was gone. These are true stories. They are also parables, perhaps, but they mean what they mean only because they are true.

◆ 8

After all these months of trying to find him, I felt as though I was the one who had been found. Instead of looking for Fanshawe, I had actually been running away from him. The work I had contrived for myself—the false book, the endless detours—had been no more than an attempt to ward him off, a ruse to keep him as far away from me as possible. For if I could convince myself that I was looking for him, then it necessarily followed that he was somewhere else— somewhere beyond me, beyond the limits of my life. But I had been wrong. Fanshawe was exactly where I was, and he had been there since the beginning. From the moment his letter arrived, I had been struggling to imagine him, to see him as he might have been—but my mind had always conjured a blank. At best, there was one impoverished image: the door of a locked room. That was the extent of it: Fanshawe alone in that room, condemned to a mythical solitude—living perhaps, breathing perhaps, dreaming God knows what. This room, I now discovered, was located inside my skull.

The story is not in the words; it’s in the struggle.

Criticism

“One,” in other words, is entirely the wrong number for a book, which is always simultaneously more than one (a multiplicity) and less than one (a part). The attempt to identify the book as one-whether it be through the attribution of an interiority, an ontology, an origin, or a destination-is a habit, an anchoring of “arborescent” thought, which for Deleuze and Guattari can be uprooted. All that’s needed, they argue, is a practice of thought that follows the model not of the tree but of the “rhizome”

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

A book is not a container, but is rather full of holes through which connections can be made to others. A book is thus both an assemblage of multiple components and a part within other assemblages.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

Nevertheless, a few points of correspondence can be found between the three stories, which could define Auster’s collection as not so much a nonidentical or uncertain trilogy as rather a trilogy about the nonidentical and the uncertain. So, although there is little continuity between genre and character, there is a certain persistence of duplicitous identities.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

In other words, that Auster’s The New York Trilogy is a trilogy is a fiction. But if that is the case, then The Red Notebook is no less a fiction, despite its claim to proffer “true stories” and despite the implication that the interviews within it present the real Paul Auster, author of The New York Trilogy and Mr Vertigo.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

Consequently, or according to Auster at least, City of Glass (and perhaps the entire Trilogy) is not the work of detective fiction that it always seems to be taken for, but rather is a work of autobiography, albeit a fictitious one.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

It becomes possible therefore that the Trilogy is not the fiction that the fictitious Paul Auster in The Red Notebook claims it to be, which is as much as to say that the story that the Trilogy is a fiction-even a fiction about the problem of identity-is yet another fiction in the endless fiction of Paul Auster. Ultimately, then, the arborescent reading of the Trilogy as a trilogy-its organization according to a system that reduces it to a work of fiction with an identifiable beginning and end, to a set of themes and intentions with an identifiable author-such a reading may well be just as fictitious as a reading that would seek to produce it as a multiplicity.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

Even though you might start off reading fiction, you can’t expect, in the end, not to find yourself writing the story of your life.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs


The New York Trilogy treats authorship in such a way that conflates the planes of phenomenology and fiction into one rhizomatic plane. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the nature of books is to form a rhizome with the world; books are simultaneously part of world of which they “remain the image” (6).

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner

The inclusion and fracture of Auster’s biography in City of Glass deterritorializes Auster, and overthrows the ontology of biography, by erasing the division between phenomenology and fiction.

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner

What makes Auster’s Trilogy endless, and rhizomatic, is that it “nullif[ies] endings” (Deleuze and Guattari 25) … Readers may not want to begin reading Auster’s book at any point in any volume, but the Trilogy nevertheless nullifies its own “endings.”

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner


The confining within the walls of New York is very similar to the solitude of the forest found in Henry Thoreau’s Waiden, recollections of which dominate the Trilogy. In both these works, the authors achieve perfect isolation within the spaces delineated by the city or the forest that endows them with a transcending ability to observe and reflec

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

One must understand how the universe functions before one confronts it with the force of creativity; this is the writer’s task. In citing Samuel Beckett, Auster defines his own ideological and literary bent, thereby depicting his profound critical acumen and his feeling for the mission of the artist: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

The re-working of the detective story as a search for the ultimate language shows that it is not the final and speculative textualization that is most appropriate for the postmodern world, but instead, the text that is written about the text. Stories about stories and books of questions, as opposed to books of answers, are the forms that best typify the difficult reality of our times. The New York Trilogy participates in the deconstruction of the legendary tower of the ancestral city and its language, as it describes the Babel-like shattering of the contemporary metropolis at the same time that it expresses the crisis surrounding linguistic representation. Its ideological structure of a wandering through and a detachment from pre-existing principles forces the postmodern subject to question the basis of all legendary archetypes.

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

Read Antarctica

Antarctica (1997) is a science fiction novel by American writer Kim Stanley Robinson. It deals with a variety of characters living at or visiting an Antarctic research station. It incorporates many of Robinson’s common themes, including scientific process and the importance of environmental protection.

In The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy talks about heath to set the scene, however Antarctica for Kim Stanley Robinson feels like more than just a setting, it is both a physical place, but also political one too. With this, the book can be appreciated as an investigation into Antarctica, while being about Antarctica. Whether it be the geography, history, science, Robinson explores Antarctica in all its detail. In particular, the book attempts to go beyond the surface level of opinions on past expedition:

Everyone who joined a Footsteps expedition was an expert; it only took a half-dozen books to fill you in on the entire history of Antarctica, and after that everyone had an opinion.

Source: Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

In some ways Robinson’s intertextual approach reminded of James Mitchener and the way in which different narratives are tied together to capture a particular subject. In Robinson’s case, this includes X, an idealistic young man working as a field assistant at McMurdo; Val, a trek guide helping people to trace the steps of past explorers; Wade Norton, an aide for a Californian senator; and the ferals, the ‘native’ people of Antarctica.

(Alternatively, I was also reminded of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. This made me think about whether Melville should be considered as a science fiction author?)

With each of the competing narratives, It is Norton who ties all these stories together. He has been sent down to Antarctica to get a picture of what is happening by Senator Phil Chase. As the novel unfolds, he relays everything back to Chase.

In some ways, this relationship is a proxy for Robinson’s relationship with us as the reader. Like Chase, we depend upon Robinson to provide an insight into all things Antarctica. One such insight relates to science.

It was not a matter of evil-doing either way; the simple truth was that science was a matter of making alliances to help you to show what you wanted to show, and to make clear also that what you were showing was important. And your own graduate students and post-docs were necessarily your closest allies in that struggle to pull together all the strings of an argument. All this became even more true when there was a controversy ongoing, when there were people on the other side publishing articles with titles like “Unstable Ice or Unstable Ideas?” and so on, so that the animus had grown a bit higher than normal.

Science was not a matter of automatons seeking Truth, but of people struggling to black-box some facts.

Source: Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

As a medium, fiction allows a means of capturing various perspectives.

There are so many aspects that reminded me of The Ministry for the Future, ranging from blimps, science, politics and terrorism. I am left wondering if these are usual aspects to all of Robinson’s work.